Nov 13, 2014
Hydroponic consultant offers growers 30 years of experience

Joe Swartz, a hydroponic growing consultant based in Amherst, Massachusetts, has 30 years of experience in commercial production – experience he is always willing to share with other growers.

“I work with prospective, inexperienced and experienced growers alike,” Swartz said. “One day, I’m helping design a greenhouse and growing system for a new grower. The next, I may be on-site, visiting an existing commercial operation troubleshooting and improving current production. On another day, I may be performing an evaluation or assessment of a hydroponic business opportunity for a potential investor.

“Basically, the learning curve in this industry is very steep, and I use my experience to save time, money and effort for those who have not been in the trenches for three decades.”

Swartz grew up in a farm family. His father grew potatoes and mixed vegetables in Massachusetts.

“While in school, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in agriculture,” he said. “But I wanted to focus on small scale, possibly year-round, intensive agriculture.”

Why hydroponics?

“Hydroponic production methods allow me to provide the freshest, most nutritious food available anywhere, to both my family as well as the community,” Swartz said. “It is one of the most resource-preserving growing methods and allows me to produce food year round, under the strictest food safety standards possible.”

In the 1960s, Swartz was introduced to a man who performed “pioneering work” on nutrient film technique lettuce-growing systems at Cornell University. He was offered advice and built a small year-round hydroponic system at the family farm in 1985.

Swartz continued to develop his system, improve production methods and grow a number of crops for grocery stores and local CSA programs.

“The initial operation that I started continues to run – mostly with the help of family members and a small, dedicated crew – while I consult for growers all over the world,” Swartz said.

He offers assistance in a variety of ways:

For existing growers. Swartz said this aspect of his business usually involves an on-site visit to evaluate the grower’s current production practices and offer suggestions to improve quality, production or the financial bottom line.

Problem solving. Swartz said he will often assist growers with a production problem, such as pest or disease infestation.

Food safety. Swartz also assists in developing comprehensive food safety plans or helps redesign existing packages. He is experienced in both Good Agriculture Practices and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point food safety standards.

“I am always looking to develop and modify systems to improve overall crop quality and improve efficiencies,” Swartz said.

He’s involved in many ongoing projects.

“I am currently working on a system modification that would assist in biological pest control, as well as several lighting strategies,” he said.

Swartz is also involved in a large, commercial-scale, indoor vertical growing operation that will be expanding across eastern Canada and the northeastern United States.

“I am also working with a new company in China that is looking to improve on the growing container system, and have several greenhouse production projects that are moving forward,” Swartz said.

One of those projects involves baby kale and baby greens. The two were being tested in a “wide nutrient film technique tub system.”

“This was designed to fit into current NFT channel systems or propagation systems without a retrofit to increase the versatility for growers who need to change crop schemes quickly,” Swartz said. “It was also to lend itself to fast, mechanical harvest and seeding.”

When he’s not visiting clients and studying new systems, Swartz teaches hydroponics seminars and schedules various speaking engagements.

“Basically, farming is in my blood and it’s all I have ever wanted to do,” he said.

For more information on hydroponics or Swartz’s services, find him on Twitter, @HydroConsultant, and online here.

Courtney Culey

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